It has been a rather easy week for National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana at the Marikana commission of inquiry stand this week. He breezed through sticking points with ease, sticking to a narrow though sturdy line of defence.
In a week where he had to deal with what was anticipated to be the damaging issue of gunfire from a guarded NUM office that critically injured two striking workers, Zokwana was upfront and firm.
"I think the branch leadership was frustrated," said Zokwana. "They [security guards] said: 'The strikers are approaching. They will kill you', they said 'Run', not getting reinforcements. The situation was such that they had to take matters into their own hands. We respect the law of this country. ... NUM can say that they were failed by the system that was meant to protect them. NUM has made it clear we don't engage in violence, we should engage people of authority. In that situation those people were informed."
On Thursday, during his testimony, Zokwana said loud and clear that he was proud of the NUM's shop stewards. "In defending the office, they defended the image of the orgasnisation. We stand by them because nobody has the right to threaten, destroy property or kill a person."
A place of safety
While the NUM is brazenly arguing self-defence, some of the evidence heard before the commission suggested the union's shop stewards were the aggressors, throwing stones at its advancing members and firing shots that resulted in the first injuries. Those shop stewards, apparently numbering at around 20, have since been taken to a place of safety.
A similar pattern of violence has played itself at Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu Mine, where members of the Association of Mineworkers and Constructution Union were preparing to go to a meeting outside the mine's premises before being surprised by a volley of bullets that resulted in the deaths of two people. Several workers interviewed by the Mail & Guardian said the men who were surrounding the NUM office were given extended leave by the company, which has now coalesced with its indefinite closure.
These incidents point to more orchestrated patterns of violence, something the Marikana commission, with its rigid terms of reference, may only interrogate at face value.
As Zokwana alluded to in his cross-examination on Friday, patterns are key to the Marikana story. Zokwana told the commission that it should look at the circumstances of the strike in order to notice a pattern that was playing itself out in Lonmin.
"At Impala [Platinum], workers met at the railway station, at Lonmin they met at the koppie. In both instances, after the strike, a new formation [Amcu] was formed," said Zokwana. "Now is that coincidence or is that a plan? Our shop stewards were chased, our offices were closed even at Lonmin. It is nothing of the NUM failing the workers interests."
Police counsel Ishmael Semenya told Zokwana that being aware of the pattern of rock drill operators making wage demands, the union should have taken the initiative to engage the workers' demands, even in the midstream of an existing wage agreement.
'I would have been assaulted'
Zokwana's spot of trouble actually emerged from expected quarters, with the impression created by advocate Nicole Lewis, who represents six families of the deceased, that the union lacked compassion by not attending the funerals of its deceased members.
"There was a memorial service, I was advised not to attend," Zokwana said. "When ministers visited, I was told not to avail myself. When the Contralesa [the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa] was there, I was told not to attend. I'm not making this up to cover why I was not there. Many people took over after the massacre, and the ministers were booed. I'm sure I would have been assaulted. The mood that prevailed on the koppie prevailed at the funerals. The NUM and the government were being blamed."
During cross-examination by Lewis, Zokwana also came under fire for apparently failing to assist the families of the deceased get their dues, to which Zokwana replied that they did take up problematic cases when they arose.
To counter the impression that the NUM was uncaring by not offering legal representation to the families of the nine – actually 10 – NUM workers who died on August 16, Zokwana told the commission that the union persuaded Lonmin to set up a fund that would assist the families of the deceased and its scope would see workers employed outside of Lonmin benefiting.
Miners are expected to take the stand this week.